Reader’s wildlife photos

May 12, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos are from regular contributor Tony Eales, who hails from Brisbane. Here we see nature red in, well, spores and mycelia—pathogenic killer fungi.  Tony’s notes are indented:

I’ve had a few interesting sightings of late and none more so than the entomopathogenic [insect and arachnid-killing] fungi I’ve found on insects and spiders.

The first two shots are of Beauveria sp. probably Beauveria bassiana commonly called Icing Sugar Fungus. In this case it has infected a Robber Fly of the genus Ommatius.

Now the interesting thing about classifying fungi is that many have a sexual form and an asexual form, and these are so different that they have been classified as separate genera in the past. So Beauveria bassiana is the anamorph (asexually reproducing form) of Cordyceps bassiana, which is known as the teleomorph or sexually reproducing form. Both together are known as the holomorph. After 1 January 2013, one fungus can only have one legitimate name. Looking at this paper, one sees that while both Beauveria and Cordyceps are legitimate genera, for this species Beauveria bassiana would be the legitimate name.

With the next one this is a species that targets spiders. The anamorphic type Gibellula is the accepted name and the former name Torrubiella for teleomorphic forms has been deprecated.

The photos are of a small spider consumed by Gibellula cf arachnophila showing the fruiting bodies. The second is of an Arkys lancearius infected with an early stage of Gibellula and after that we see the small yellow sexual form of Gibellula cf arachnophila, formerly classified as Torrubiella sp. I collected the Arkys and have it at home in test tube in the hope it will produce fruiting bodies for me to photograph.

Last, I have an unfortunate caterpillar that has been killed by Metarhizium rileyi, another entomopathogenic fungus that is being actively investigated for its ability to kill a wide range of Lepidopteran pests. While there’s always been interest in using entomopathogenic fungi like B. bassiana and M. rileyi, the virulence of entomopathogenic fungi is affected by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, light, and solar radiation.

18 thoughts on “Reader’s wildlife photos

  1. Wow what a fantastic diversity of entomopathogenic fungi! Is Australia particularly rich in these? In my part of the world we see mostly Cordyceps.

    Interesting to learn about the naming too. How is it that Cordyceps and Beauveria are both legitimate names if they sometimes refer to the same organism? Is Cordyceps polyphyletic so that it has been broken up into segregate genera, including a Cordyceps s.s. and Beauveria? But if that were the case, why would the sexual phase of Beauveria still have been called “Cordyceps”? Or was a split of Cordyceps done after Jan 1 2013?

  2. Great pictures of killer fungi! I’m glad we don’t get anything like this as it looks like a really bad way to die.

    1. Hear hear. While the immunocompromised can die from fungal infections, of course (and many other kinds of infections), and people with diabetes find them especially troublesome, just imagine being completely overcome by a case of ringworm or athlete’s foot.

      I’m not sure why mammals such as we don’t tend to have killer fungi. Maybe it’s a matter of size, combined with a larger (?and more sophisticated therefore?) immune system.

    1. Of course there is the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (“Bt”) which you can apply as a dust. Very safe for other animals, including humans, but it kills caterpillars and beetle larvae. I think available at gardening stores.

  3. Terrific photos, Tony. Growing up in Brisbane inthe 50s-60s, I paid attention only to the larger-scale fauna. Shame, in retrospect, that I missed such fascinating life forms.

    Coincidentally, with reference to Charles Sawicki’s “…glad we don’t get anything like this…”, I’ve just finished a chapter of Nicholas Money’s Mushrooms – A Natural and Cultural History wherein he points out that infections of humans by mushroom mycelia are rare but that, for instance, “…mycelial growth on replacement heart valves is one of the horrors reported in the medical literature.”

  4. This is very interesting, Tony. I wish I could remember all these scientific names and ‘true facts’ so I could recognize similar (if not identical) things as I go about my garden.

    1. I know Facebook is terrible and all but there are so many Facebook groups on every interesting topic with helpful people on them. I joined amateur entomology groups, bird identification groups, native plant groups, weed groups, reptile groups, spider groups, even an entomopathogenic fungi group. I just post pictures and ask questions and eventually learned enough to answer questions by newbies like I was. It’s a great way to learn from and befriend people with similar interests.

      1. Good suggestion, Tony. I’m afraid I don’t retain too much info since I’m getting old, and my brain is full of concerns and worries. I used to be able to name each plant growing in my garden, scientific names and all. Now it’s just ‘a bunch of hostas’. 🙂

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